Chicago police set to revamp controversial gang database

The Criminal Enterprise Information System will launch in the next six to 12 months and aims to ultimately replace the CPD’s existing gang database, which has been criticized as ineffective, inaccurate and outdated.

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Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck.

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department is set to unveil plans to upgrade and remodel its controversial gang database.

The Criminal Enterprise Information System will launch in the next six to 12 months and aims to ultimately replace the CPD’s existing gang database, which has been criticized as ineffective, inaccurate and outdated.

“The vast majority of our shootings and homicides are either gang-involved or gang-related,” Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck said in an interview Wednesday. “Having an information system that allows us to track and account for gang members, specific to the gangs that they’re involved with is an indispensable investigative tool to deal with these issues.”

In a blistering report issued last year, the city’s Office of the Inspector General said the department’s existing gang “database” — which includes more than 134,000 names — was a disorganized collection of outdated information stored in a host of different places.

“OIG found that CPD has captured, reported, and visualized gang-related data in at least 18 different forms, records, and systems of records in the past 10 years, although CPD was not able to definitively account for all such information in its possession and control,” the 160-page audit read.

The report also said the CPD’s gang data collection methods exacerbate the already strained relationship between law enforcement and people of color.

“These [gang member] designations may contribute to a variety of adverse consequences for individuals and communities in, among others, law enforcement, criminal justice, immigration and employment contexts,” the report added.

The new system, Beck said, will centralize the department’s gang information. There will also be strict criteria to add someone to the new database.

A person will be added to the list only if they have admitted to gang membership in the last five years and their statement is recorded on video. If there is no video recording of their statement, they must meet two of six other criteria to be added to the list.

Those six criteria are: “an unrecorded self-admission, wearing of distinctive gang emblems or tattoos, evidence from a reliable confidential informant within the last two years, the use of distinctive gang signs, being identified as a gang member by another governmental or penal institution, or being arrested, charged or convicted of a crime where gang membership is an element of the offense or is documented in the court record.”

However, the department said, the use of gang signs and the wearing of gang emblems can’t be the only two criteria used to add someone to the database.

There will be a “multi-level approval process” before someone is added to the list, as well, Beck said.

“Nobody’s included based on the say so of one individual,” he said.

The database will also be updated regularly. A person on the list would be automatically removed if they have no contact with law enforcement for a period of five years, according to the department.

Beck said that if someone believes they are in the database incorrectly, they will be able to appeal their designation to the Chicago Police Board — the nine-member body appointed by the mayor that metes out discipline to officers accused of misconduct. A representative for the police board did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday.

Though the department will publish information about the number of people on the list and the reason they were added to it, “only bona fide law enforcement partners would have access to it and CPD folks would only have access to it when they’re involved in a criminal investigation,” Beck said.

“If we find other law enforcement entities that have access to this system abusing it, they will be barred from the system,” he added, noting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will not have access to the data.

Pat Mullane, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said the new database “is a necessary step towards building greater transparency, accountability and trust between our law enforcement and the residents they serve” while “allowing CPD to better prevent, investigate, and solve gang-related crime while also protecting the constitutional rights of citizens.”

In 2018, a coalition of community groups filed a federal lawsuit against the city that sought to have the database deemed unconstitutional. The lawsuit is still proceeding and an attorney for the coalition did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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